I wrangled with God for decades before I decided to follow Jesus, mostly because I feared God might send me off to Africa to become a missionary. I liked being in charge of my own life, thank you very much, and Africa wasn’t part of the plan.

Now, after several decades of bumbling along after Jesus (including a brief time in Africa working with AIDS orphans and widows), I view my life and God very differently. I have given up the illusion that I’m in charge of anything and have thrown in my lot with a loving higher power who plots goodness for the world and for my life.

There is nothing that gives me more joy than hanging out with other people who embrace the adventure and freedom of searching for and surrendering to the infusing power of Love.

That’s why my annual trip to the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina is so inspiring and refreshing. To be among thousands of truth and justice seekers, all bathed in mud or dust depending on the year, singing and praying and sharing our stories and struggles — well, that is the Kingdom Come for me.

beer and hymns

Nightly beer & hymns

Sharing stories

Sharing stories

It’s certainly not all happy hymns, there is plenty of struggle and sacrifice and pain in this faith journey. Jesus people are asked to step into the uncomfortable and the countercultural, and we don’t even get a pass from the everyday trials and losses; we just get a different perspective on them. And so it is good to come together to bear witness to the joy and sadness of the journey.

goose crowd

Kingdom Come

This year we had two surprise guests at the Goose, one a young African-American woman and the other an eighty-year-old white guy. Both received standing ovations for their courage, and both spoke of the high cost they have paid for responding to the Holy Spirit of Love.

The Courage to Change your Mind (Repent)

If you’re a Christian, you’ve probably heard of author and evangelical thought-leader Tony Campolo. Or you might have seen him on The Colbert Report. While he is viewed as a relatively progressive evangelical, he’s been outspoken in his opposition to gay marriage. In June, he completely reversed that position and said that he had been wrong.

He was immediately castigated by other evangelical leaders, and long-time friends now refuse to speak to him. His 300 speaking engagements for the year dropped to 30 as the “dis-invitations” rolled in.

Ahhh, Christianity at its judgmental best.

The good news is that because Tony’s speaking engagement for the weekend had been cancelled, he was able to come to the Goose where he was warmly welcomed. A huge tent quickly filled to capacity and hundreds stood outside in the sun, fanning themselves as they listened to him tell his story.

Tony said he had always “accepted” gay people as long as they remained celibate, but as he got to know more gay people and their families, he became increasingly uncomfortable with his position.

“We all said, ‘love the sinner but hate the sin,’ but the thing is, Jesus never said that. Jesus said, ‘Love the sinner and hate your own sin;’ I had to look at myself . . . who am I to deny gay people the same joy and fulfillment I have enjoyed with my wife all these years?” he asked. Indeed.

Tony Campolo (left) and Brian McLaren

Tony Campolo (left) and Brian McLaren

He said that he owed the gay community an apology and acknowledged that he and the church have caused gay people and their loved ones a lot of pain. Tony told stories of courageous pastors who have been standing up for their gay friends and parishioners for years and paying high costs. “I’m eighty years old, I don’t have much to lose. Those are the real heroes.”

This being a loving crowd, Tony stuck around for the whole festival and basked in the acceptance and forgiveness of the Wild Goose community, gay and straight alike.

The Courage to Risk your Life

I would have thought that our other surprise guest would need no introduction, but a lot of folks didn’t know who she was. Bree Newsome — ring a bell? She is featured in this blog I posted a few weeks ago.

Bree is the young African-American woman who scaled the flagpole outside the South Carolina statehouse and took down the confederate flag, quoting scripture all the way up and all the way down and as she was led off to jail.

In the name of God , this flag comes down!

In the name of God , this flag comes down!

Bree and her colleague James Tyson almost didn’t accept the invitation to speak at Wild Goose because they have been threatened with violent retaliation and were nervous about standing in front of a big crowd. “But we decided to come because God is a God of peace, not fear,” Bree told the crowd. Still, they were accompanied by eight low-profile security folks at all times.

The day before Bree arrived, there was a confederate flag emblazoned with a skull flying from a tree on the way into the festival. I’m ashamed to say I did not stop to take it down because I knew someone else would.

Bree spoke of her decision to climb the flagpole as a “crisis of faith moment” for her. After meeting with other activists, she went into a back room alone and prayed. “I got the peace that passes understanding, and I said, ‘OK, Lord, I gotcha — I’m supposed to climb that pole,’ but then I got home and there was my grandmother and my niece, and I thought, ‘Oh Lord, what are you asking me to do? I could die.’ I called my sister at 3 a.m. and said ‘pray for me.’ After that experience, you can’t tell me anything. Christ is real . . . Jesus Christ is one of the biggest agitators ever.”

Bree is deep in the struggle with both feet, and I’m sure she scares the pants off of those who don’t agree with her. She is well-educated, well-spoken, poised, fearless, and driven by a fierce and holy hunger for justice.

“Justice is a way of being that fully recognizes the humanity in all beings,” she told us. “The black struggle is part of the overall struggle for liberation to end oppression itself.”

When someone asked her what legacy she would like to leave, she answered, “I’m not living to leave a legacy for myself. I hope I’m remembered as someone who died doing the work of Christ.”

Bree Newsome and James Tyson: The joy of the Lord is our strength

Bree Newsome and James Tyson: The joy of the Lord is our strength

Bree’s words made me think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who was thrown into a concentration camp and then executed by the Nazis for his work against Hitler. He wrote a classic book called The Cost of Discipleship, which was a little heavy-handed for me, but the title raises a question for all of us who call ourselves Christians. What does my faith-life cost me?

See part one: Spirit on the Wing: Scaring the Hell out of Christians

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